“You would not believe your eyes, If ten million fireflies, Lit up the world as I fell asleep…”. The lyrics from the popular Owl Cities song “Fireflies” were stuck in my head as I saw the path lit by fireflies in the moonlight.
Every year, in the weeks before the onset of the monsoon in Maharashtra, there is an spectacle that unfolds just after dark. Thousands of fireflies gather in bushes and trees in the forests, lighting up the jungle in a dazzling display of patterned night, hoping to attract suitable mates during the mating season. The sight can often be only viewed by trekking into rather remote parts of the state, and with this little idea I set forth on one weekend.
Surprisingly, fireflies used to be common in Mumbai a few decades ago. I distinctly remember seeing (and even catching) these glow bugs during my childhood. But of late, with rapid development, these have vanished from the city. So a chance to see them was always welcome. In this case, I joined a trekking trip to Rajmachi that promised good views of the fireflies at both Rajmachi and along the trekking route.
We set out from Mumbai via the Mumbai-Pune Sinhagad Express station that dropped us at the hill station town of Lonavala. At Lonavala, we met the rest of our trekking group and begin the journey towards Rajmachi.
Now the Lonavala to Rajmachi trekking route is a good 14-15 Km long and is a fascinating trail. The trail begins from Lonavala and climbs up to a dam where you can see the backwaters, before snaking downwards on a long walk towards Rajmachi. The trail is mostly flat and passes through clumps of dense forest. The trail finally ends at Udhewadi village that is overlooked by the twin fortifications of Shrivardhan and Manaranjan.
At about sunset, we had made it to the dam and after a quick group photo shoot we began the long walk towards Rajmachi. Spirits were high and we spent the time talking and eating wild berries from the shrubs along the trail. After a little while, we passed through a village and reached the downward sloping dirt track. The real trip was now beginning and we were excited.
Overhead, the monsoon clouds started gathering, adding to the gloom being cast by the setting sun. We hurried onwards hoping to make good time before daylight vanished and we’d have to rely on torch and moon light. Intermittent flashes of lightning in the sky added somewhat to the urgency as the celestial heavens seemed bent on flash photography. We were so caught up in walking as fast as possible that we almost did not notice little specks of green light, winking in the forests around us, like many little will-o-wisps. Yes, the fireflies had begun to show themselves !!!
Fireflies are actually small winged beetles belonging to the Lampyridae family. About 2000 species of fireflies are found in various habitats globally. The little beetles produce bio-luminescence through special organs on their abdomens which are used to attract prey or mates. The enzyme luciferase, in the presence of magnesium ions, ATP, and oxygen reacts to produce light in these organs.1The fireflies can control the light generated to produce a dazzling array of patterns.
As darkness fell, our jaws dropped. The trail around us was lit on both sides by thousands of little fireflies. And they were not silent, but eternally restless. Flying about, dancing and flashing mind-boggling patterns, they lit up the night, much to our collective awe and pleasure. It was difficult to keep moving as the heart wanted to stay rooted in one spot and simply absorb the mesmerizing patterns.
Eventually we all trooped into the village at the end of the trail, tired, sore but with happy souls, having witnessed the almost celestial spectacle of dancing fireflies. After a delicious simple dinner at our homestay, some of us opted to visit the nearby temple and see some more fireflies. But frankly, they were a bit underwhelming in comparison to the ones on the trail.
The next day a bunch of us woke up early in the morning to catch the sunrise from one of the nearby forts. The trail to the fort top was a simple enough climb and as we climbed upwards, we noticed that the fort top was covered in clouds.
Stepping into the cloud covered, misty fort we made our way upwards to the top of the fort. Along the way the clouds occasionally shifted to give us awesome views of the valley below and the other fort on the opposite hill. The top of the fort had a small area where we could rest and marvel at the sunrise.
After seeing the sunrise, we proceeded back to the village for breakfast and began the long climb down towards Karjat. After about 2-3 hours of climbing down we made it to the base village of Kondivita, just in time for lunch and just out of the incoming rains. After another lovely simple village lunch, we bid adieu to Rajmachi, carrying memories of the dancing lights of the fireflies, back with us to Mumbai.
Rajmachi can be accessed by trekking from either the Karjat side or the Lonavala side. From Karjat, the base village is Kondivita, which can be reached by bus or rickshaw from Karjat station. Reaching Rajmachi from this side, involves a rather steep climb. On the other hand, one can trek from Lonavala, by the rather long but simple route to Rajmachi. I chose to reach Rajmachi from the Lonavala side and descend from the Karjat side. Karjat is easily accessible via local trains on the central line from Mumbai. Lonavala is reachable by several trains and private buses from Mumbai. We chose the Sinhagad Express, which connects Mumbai to Pune, for this trip.
Best Time to Visit
Rajmachi is great to visit almost all year round, with night treks being more popular during the summer seasons. However to see fireflies, the ideal time is a week or two before the monsoon rains. This practically means a narrow window between the end of May and early June. I visited Rajmachi on 7th and 8th June, just about beating the monsoons. The best way to experience the fireflies at Rajmachi is to join one of the many “firefly” trekking trips organized by many groups in Mumbai. Both Canvas n Chrome and Mumbai Travellers organize such trips during the firefly mating season.
Where to Stay
There aren’t any traditional stay options in Udhewadi village at Rajmachi such as hotels or guest houses. Stay and food is best arranged through home stays in one of the village homes. Alternatively, one may either camp out in the wilderness or spend the night up on of the forts, depending on weather conditions.
Things to see and do
Besides the fireflies, one can explore the twin forts of Shrivardhan and Manaranjan. During winter, its also possible to have a camp out with a camp fire. In addition to this, on the way down to Karjat, you can also explore the old Kondhane Caves.